Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

City and Churches Campaign for Safe Sleeping

Renewed effort targets co-sleeping, which causes 20% of infant deaths.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Oct 22nd, 2013 09:51 am
Commissioner of Health Bevan K. Baker (left) and Mayor Tom Barrett wait to speak about safe sleep at Ebenezer Church. (Photo by Tom Momberg)

Commissioner of Health Bevan K. Baker (left) and Mayor Tom Barrett wait to speak about safe sleep at Ebenezer Church. (Photo by Tom Momberg)

When Julia Means, parish nurse at Ebenezer Church, started Blanket of Love in 2007 there was not much discussion about the danger of co-sleeping. Now, discouraging the practice of parents and babies sleeping in the same bed is the focus of an aggressive campaign to reduce infant deaths, especially in the city’s African-American neighborhoods.

Blanket of Love is a prenatal and parenting education program sponsored by Ebenezer Church of God in Christ and funded by Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital and the March of Dimes.

“We work with at-risk moms. We teach them first about prenatal care and how to take care of themselves while they’re pregnant and where the baby is going to sleep,” Means said. “We work with them the first year because we know that the first year is the most dangerous.”

Blanket of Love educates young parents about safe sleeping practices. (Photo by Tom Momberg)

Blanket of Love educates young parents about safe sleeping practices. (Photo by Tom Momberg)

Co-sleeping accounts for 20 percent of infant deaths. The other major causes are premature births and birth defects, according to the Milwaukee Health Department. The city’s goal is to reduce the overall infant mortality rate 10 percent and the African-American infant mortality rate 15 percent by 2017.

The department has teamed up with Blanket of Love to raise awareness about co-sleeping. Mayor Tom Barrett recently marked the city’s third annual Safe Sleep Sabbath by visiting area churches, including Ebenezer Church.

“Wanting to be close to your baby is a really good natural tendency, but that’s the problem because this means that often love leads to death,” Barrett said.

Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan K. Baker, who also spoke, said co-sleeping is mentioned in the Bible. “But I believe that in this intersection of public health and faith that there is a solution. I believe this is an issue that faith, God and commitment can fix.”

Alderman Bob Donovan (8th) has proposed criminalizing co-sleeping deaths if the parent was intoxicated or otherwise impaired.

However, Barrett said he thinks current laws are adequate. “I think that the issue is more about education,” he said. “We send out the same message every year for the same reason Coca-Cola continues to advertise. The message has to be delivered over and over again in order to be remembered.”

Blanket of Love meets at 5:00 p.m. every Tuesday at Ebenezer Church, 3132 N. Martin Luther King Drive. The program is expanding weekly meetings to St. Matthew CME Church, 2944 N. 9th St., beginning Nov. 6.  Means said plans also are in the works to offer the program at Agape Community Center, 6100 N. 42nd St.

Means said Blanket of Love is trying to get people from all over the city to participate. “The biggest problem is transportation, and that’s one reason why we want to expand into other neighborhoods where the infant mortality rate is high.”

The Safe Sleep Sabbath event was planned in cooperation with Columbia St. Mary’s and United Way of Greater Milwaukee, along with other faith-based and health organizations.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

4 thoughts on “City and Churches Campaign for Safe Sleeping”

  1. Kathleen Kosnar says:

    Infant mortality rates from co-sleeping are high in lower income neighborhoods and where residents are more transient due to their level of poverty. The family usually has few possessions and may not have transportation to move their belongings. Traditional baby cribs do not work for these families. Portacribs are the perfect solution. They are large enough to keep a child in a safe sleeping environment until they are approximately two years and are easily folded and carried when moving or staying with other family or a babysitter. Parents sleep with their infants when there is no other option to keep them protected and sheltered. None of us would believe that we could smother a child and not realize it, but this is the heartbreaking outcome for many caring parents. The act of donating portacribs to low income families when they leave the hospital would be a worthy project for church and other non profit organizations to undertake in our community. Working with a distributor/manufacturer to negotiate a volume discount would make the project feasible. And a fund drive to purchase this life saving item would realize strong participation. Education is important, but parents may not have a choice without a portacrib.

  2. Kyle says:

    Portacribs are not going to solve the problem. You can provide all the safe and portable sleeping environments you want, but the issue is that babies cry, and it’s often easier to keep a baby quiet when held than when in a crib. Unless you’re providing free, portable, safe and sound proof cribs, this problem isn’t going away. Add to it the frequent issue that the parents were under the influence, and maybe the issue is decision-making. Besides, attachment parenting is all the rage. Rates of co-sleeping are on the rise, but infant deaths are not. You’re going to have to find a way to explain those inconvenient statistics before people will take your solutions seriously.

  3. Karen says:

    If you look at the co sleeping deaths in Milwaukee, there WAS a safe place for the babies to sleep, they just weren’t being used.

  4. joe says:

    Now the Mayor hasgotten on board , as the Mayor is always late to the party . How many children as died and the communitee and Mayor have been ………silent. Mothers who kill their childern should be in jail.

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